In the football calendar, January means one thing: transfer window.
Most managers reckon that the January transfer window is a bad time to do business. Your marquee signings are found over the long term, with lots of negotiations going on with an aim to landing them early in the summer so they can be integrated into the squad. The January window usually provides an opportunity for one of two kinds of signing.
Either your squad has been decimated with injuries (or, at the minute, COVID-19 results) and you are looking for some quick reinforcements rather than fielding your under-18 squad every week. Liverpool did this last year, as over half the first team squad were hit with injuries, leading to the unglamorous signing of Ben Davies from Preston, who was quickly loaned back out at the start of this season, and a loan deal for Ozan Kabak from Schalke, the option to sign long-term being rejected. Otherwise, your team has hit a real slump and the transfer window provides a glimmer of hope. Perhaps that star can be found who will fit perfectly into the existing setup and can drag the team out of its current malaise. I suspect Man Utd might be trying some shopping of this sort.
But the January transfer window can prove to be invaluable. In recent years, West Ham benefited greatly by signing Jesse Lingard on loan from Manchester United, deemed a flop by his home club but helping steer West Ham into the European places. It’s worth remembering that Philip Coutinho, who nobody wants anymore, was an absolute inspiration at Liverpool – which ultimate led to his £152m transfer to Barcelona – having arrived on Merseyside for a meagre £8.5m in a January window. Luis Suarez also joined Liverpool in a January window, following the sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea, and was central to pushing Liverpool, under Brendan Rogers, to a close second in the Premier League that season. Better yet, Virgil Van Dijk was signed in a January window and was part of the first Liverpool team to win the Premier League in 30 years. Two of the better Manchester United signings in recent years – Nemanja Vidic and Bruno Fernandes – both arrived in January windows. The point being, sometimes a single January transfer is just what a team need.
In the church, transfer growth has become a bit of a dirty term. Growth by conversion is what we’re all really after (and, rightly so!) But that doesn’t mean transfer growth should be despised. Sometimes, much like those desperate teams in the January transfer window, a single church transfer might be just what a little struggling church needs to really push on in the gospel ministry they have been given to do.
Of course, much like football teams, sometimes our desperation to do something to improve matters leads to some dodgy transfers. For every Luis Suarez there is an Andy Carroll. For every Fernando Torres in his Liverpool iteration there is a Fernando Torres in his Chelsea patch. This is no different in the church. Sometimes, we are so desperate for some folks to come in and help stem the tide that we gladly take anyone, no matter how appropriate, and unsurprisingly things do not always work out so well.
But sometimes, a bit of transfer growth is just what we need. Of course, we don’t want to grow exclusively by transfer, but one or two of the right people coming in might just kickstart some serious change in our church and community. One godly couple coming in might just spark something that leads to real and lasting change. One single worker being added to your number might be the difference between reaching a whole group of people you aren’t touching at the moment and missing them altogether. Let’s be honest, the Lord has achieved far more with a lot less in the past. If we want to grow by conversion, sometimes a well placed transfer is just what we need.
The question we can all be asking is: where will I be most useful for the kingdom? If you are in a large church, whose ministries are all pretty well stocked and your being somewhere else wouldn’t be greatly missed, maybe a transfer to a smaller, struggling church might help you grow more and serve the local church better. I’m not suggesting you just up and go, but have that conversation with your church leadership and see if they will send you. Godly churches who recognise gospel needs should be more than happy to send you if such is the case. If they don’t want to send you, my suspicion is that the smaller church would gladly forego your transfer at any rate.
If you are a smaller, struggling church, maybe make your needs known to the wider church. Be praying that the right kind of transfer might come and help you in your mission. Put yourself in the kind of places where you can share your needs with other local church ministers, see if there might be gospel transfers they could help encourage. Get yourself in the kind of places where people looking for a transfer might be found and spoken to about where they might transfer (FIEC’s Hub Conference is setup for this).
But let’s not despise a transfer here and there. It might be the difference, for some, between fresh and vital impetus and packing it all in.